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Your Guide to Become a Successful Freelance PHP Developer

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Are you considering a job as a PHP developer? Does the idea of problem-solving daily sound like a wish come true?

Is your dream job defined by the ability to work wherever you want but still offer the opportunity to grow?

If you’re a creative problem solver, enjoy working on something new almost every day and are a tech enthusiast, a job in web or database development may be the career for you.

PHP is an open-source scripting language that slowly made its way to dominate the web development scene. Since its release in 1994, it has gained popularity among developers because it’s free, powerful and lucrative.

And, as time went on, it’s no surprise people wanted to gear up to work as freelance PHP web developers. Given the scripting language’s growing popularity for web development, you can’t help but see why.

Of course, there are a few things you should know before diving into the deep end with any new and up-and-coming field. Unlike becoming a doctor, there’s no right way to become a successful PHP developer, especially if you want to work as a freelancer.

You will have to know the skills, certifications, and responsibilities you need to excel.

But not just that, you’ll need to crack the tech industry and get your foot through the door.

The complexity of being a PHP developer makes it a challenging career, so having the right skills for this job are essential. Read on to find out what being a PHP developer entails, the skills and certifications you need, and whether that fits your skills and expertise.

php developer

What is a PHP Developer?

A PHP developer is a web developer.

But a web developer is not necessarily a PHP developer.

A closer look will tell you PHP developers aren’t just your average web developer.

They don’t just use any scripting language. Instead, they write, test and maintain source code for applications, programs and websites using PHP — a server-side scripting language used mainly for business applications and web development. They’re also often skilled in using Linux, Apache, and other backend technologies.

Responsible for backend development, PHP developers focus on object-oriented programming, usually develop back-end components, connect the applications with other web services and support front-end developers by integrating their work with the program. Essentially, spider-man pulling the string to connect the web (excuse the pun).

Advantages of PHP Programming

It’s not uncommon to choose your job based on availability and salary opportunities. As mentioned, PHP development is a booming industry and offers a career path with fast progression, whether that’s niching down or broadening your software development skills. In an industry that’s constantly evolving, you can quickly grow with it.

But it’s not all about money, so if you’re wondering if you should become a freelance PHP developer. Here are a few advantages:

Problem Solving Oriented

Software development could be for you if you enjoy problem-solving. You’ll have to provide solutions for users’ issues constantly. This could range from occasional quick fixes to more complex issues.

Opportunity to get creative with code

You’ll have a chance to be creative. Each problem or component you design will be unique, and you need to create an innovative solution using new technologies.

Continuous learning opportunities

Technology is moving rapidly, so you will need to stay up-to-date with new programming and technologies and adapt alongside them. You’ll likely see strong career and personal development if you can do this.

Team collaboration (even when working remotely)

While working remotely promotes autonomy and solo work, as a PHP developer, you’ll often need to work as part of a team to ensure you achieve the best end product.

PHP Developer Job Basic Information

The job market sees rising demand for PHP developers. In fact, Indeed’s 2021 data showed job listings increased by an extraordinary 834% increase in entry-level PHP development positions since January 2020, making it the fastest-growing tech job.

Most businesses rely on an online presence rather than a physical store in today’s climate. An online presence has never been more critical for enterprises to keep pace with fluctuating business trends.

So, in other words, your time is now.

The Average Salary of a PHP Web Developer

Now comes the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the salary numbers.

Across the leading job search platforms, the average salary for PHP web developers differs slightly:

  • Glassdoor: $81k/year, with a low of $55k and a high of $100k.
  • ZipRecruiter: $86k/year, with a low of $21k and a high of $137k.
  • PayScale: $64k/year, with a low of $43k and a high of $94k.
  • Indeed: $94k/year, based on job offers posted on the site.

The location, the budget of the clients you work with, and your skill and reputation are significant factors in this. But overall, there is a trending median salary around $80,000/year or $43/hour for freelancers.

Experienced or seasoned developers (with 7-9 years of experience) earn about $85,000 per year, while a junior PHP developer can reel in about $74,000 per year. At the top end, a senior PHP Developer can make about $112,000 per year.

php developer

Agency vs Freelance PHP Web Developer Salary

Freelancing is hard. You’re 100% responsible for bringing in clients, doing all the marketing and building a reputation and experience warranting the cost of your services.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it.

In fact, freelance PHP developers have the potential to make a considerable income. ZipRecruiter reports an average of $89k/year or $43/hour, and Code Mentor is even high at $61-80/hour.

Freelancing has always been a popular way to earn money in the tech industry, and in a world with so many in desperate need of people with the skills to grow, the demand is increasing. If you think freelancing is not the right choice for you, you can also work with a tech recruitment company or a staffing agency.

Skills and Qualifications Needed to Succeed as a Well-Rounded PHP Developer

There are multiple pathways available to become a well-rounded PHP Developer. But, there are specific technical skills or qualifications necessary to succeed. However, there is no one way to acquire them.

Technical Skills and Qualifications:

  • Bachelor or College degree in a related field: Such as computer science, data science, software engineering
  • Knowledge of PHP web frameworks: Laravel, Codelgniter, CakePHP (open-sourced web framework), PHPUnit (unit testing framework), Zend and Symfony.
  • Understand common design patterns in PHP applications: Factory, Strategy, and Singleton, but many others.
  • Working knowledge of other web languages: such as Java and Angular. PayScale estimates that a working knowledge of Angular can increase the earning potential of an entry-level PHP developer by 23 per cent.
  • Knowledge of front-end technologies: Including CSS3, JavaScript and HTML5 for full-stack development. Being versed in these languages help you understand how they affect UX.
  • Familiarity with SQL/ NoSQL databases: Alternatives include PostgreSQL and Oracle.
  • Proficient with code versioning tools: including Git, Mercurial, CVS, and SVN

It goes without saying that to be a good PHP developer, you first need to master the PHP basics, know how to prepare the development environment, and feel confident using PHP. Learning the ‘hard’ technical skills is only one aspect of becoming a high-level senior developer. To succeed as a PHP Developer, you’ll need the right set of complementary ‘soft skills’

Additional Skills

  • Problem-solving skills: In addition to the required technical developer skills, Problem-solving and critical thinking skills are crucial to all web development. Daily, you’ll have to discover errors in the PHP code and make sure the site continues to operate correctly. How you go about doing that will play a significant role in how proficient a developer you are.
  • Good communication skills: While you may thrive working remotely, you’ll often need to work as a development team. That means you’ll need to talk with colleagues, bosses and clients to understand business goals, raise issues and collaborate to achieve the best end product.
  • Adaptability: Like all programming languages, PHP continues to evolve rapidly. You’ll need to be on top of the industry trends and latest application updates to excel in this fluid profession.
  • Persistence to apply creative solutions: Approaching problems from a fresh perspective and thinking outside conventional logic isn’t rare for any software developer. But it’s not easy to find a professional PHP developer disciplined enough to do all that until a solution works.

Roles and Responsibilities of a PHP Developer

Typical job responsibilities of PHP developers:

  • Build and develop website elements – You have to create website applications that align with a specific website’s theme. You may need to build upon an existing environment or build everything from scratch.
  • Rectify backends – Your role will include designing user-friendly systems. And as necessary, identify and resolve compatibility issues with HTML, CSS, and other forms of scripting.
  • Provide rich details – As a way to make your creations understandable and transparent. Specify budget programming languages, functionalities, communication protocols, and other website features.
  • Prioritise positive user experience and apply “future-proof” techniques – Conducting website tests and addressing customer feedback are ways to keep website visitors satisfied. And to generate unique visits, come up with the most advanced and futuristic ideas.
  • Innovate existing design – You’ll need to be well-aware of the ever-changing design principles and concepts. To be in sync with constant changes, acquire knowledge about web usability, web performance, and the latest topics concerning system design.

5 Steps to Becoming a PHP Developer

Step 1: Get Qualified in a Related Field

In terms of higher education levels, no single degree is better than the rest, but degrees should be in a related field such as Data Science, Computer Science, and Software Development.

And so will a solid background in programming and Information Technology. It lets employers know you have a good understanding of PHP web development.

Of course, hands-on experience trumps every time and having a degree isn’t all there is to the job role. Many senior PHP web developers also have previous career experience as a Web Developer.

Having a bachelor’s degree comes with advantages, of course. It earns confidence, trust, and credibility. But sometimes, and especially if you have a specific employment opportunity in mind, you may notice a degree isn’t mandatory. Some employers prefer to take verifiable work experience into consideration.

Step 2: Learn PHP Language

There are many PHP learning resources online. Colleges, adult education programs, and online learning institutes also offer classes. Sadly, there are a lot of ‘gurus’ on the internet talking about ‘how to become a junior php developer fast’, arguing that you can learn in just a day.

Realistically, it will take quite a while to come to terms with the language.

And then some more to actually get good at it.

Take note, though, learning the PHP language isn’t down to a single PHP course. You could choose to learn from eBooks, online courses, offline classes, YouTube videos, seminars and webinars and even blogs. There are also Basic and Advanced courses to consider.

You can combine any of the above options depending on your preference. But start small, just 1-2 hours a day and soon the mountain won’t seem so tall.

Tips on effective ways to learn PHP:

  • Learn from trustworthy sources – Start learning PHP from the ground up. And get lessons from authoritative sources and not from “learn PHP in one day” gurus.
  • Create a comfortable learning environment – Find a place where you can dedicate about an hour to learning PHP. It may be a relatively easy scripting language. But it requires a good deal of uninterrupted focus.
  • Choose your PHP IDE or text editor – Some popular PHP IDEs are PHPStorm, Zend Studio, CodeLobster, Eclipse, NetBeans, and Microsoft Visual Studio. Pick one based on your goals. Most fundamental text editors (like Notepad on Windows) will let you create a PHP script. But, if you want a customizable program, consider Brackets and Visual Studio Code as among the top text editors based on Windows and Mac.
  • Decide on an area of expertise – With a lot of competitors, being an expert in an area of PHP increases your value. You can be a master in a PHP framework. You can be an expert at Magento, WooCommerce, and other platforms, too. Also, you can be a master at using Content Management Systems.

php developer

Step 3: Unwavering Commitment to Learning

A fun aspect of PHP is, it’s expansive, and therefore, offers you grand possibilities. You can generate a script that enables integrations with cloud technologies, be a cybersecurity boss, and even create Instagram-like filters.

However, it also means there’s a lot to learn — you have a lot to learn.

If you’re open to lifelong learning, though, you’ll develop a penchant for the scripting language as you go.

The more you play around with PHP, the more comfortable you’ll become with it. Start small using the basic, common skills — maybe create something in pure code — then work your way to more involved programming with advanced features as you get more familiar with the language.

Use designated web developer and designer plugins to aid you in creating your own development projects. And if you plan to be a freelance developer, having them in your arsenal could be the difference between landing a client or not.

Step 4: Get a Certification

A PHP certification can help ensure employers’ confidence in you. It’s a testament to your proficiency in PHP. It shows you know your way around it and you can fix common issues involving PHP.

If you’re new and inexperienced, a certification can drastically improve your professional reputation and boost your chances of landing a high-end job as a freelance PHP developer.

There are several PHP certification programs, offered by online institutions Coursera and Udemy.

Alternatively, search for authoritative PHP developers with websites. They sometimes provide their own course and, to sweeten the deal, they’ll even endorse you to their professional network.

Step 5: Apply for Great Opportunities

Once you’re all geared up, learned PHP, worked on projects and are certified, you’re ready to chase a career in PHP development.

Be diligent in looking for employment opportunities and submit applications for jobs that fit you. If you’re applying to be a freelance php developer, take into account not only the financial rewards, but the work flexibility, too.

Things you need to remember:

  • Ace interviews – Put your best foot forward. Demonstrate your development skills and let employers know how much value you can provide.
  • Be patient – Web development is a competitive industry, so don’t be disheartened if you’re not accepted by every application. Remain steadfast and play the numbers game.
  • Have the right mindset – Stay disciplined, goal-oriented, and professional. Along the way, many people give up or begin chasing new pursuits. Avoid doing the same.
  • Brush up on hard development skills – Devote your time to always being a highly qualified, experienced developer. Keep up with the latest trends and learn as much as you can. Remember, knowledge of PHP is a must.
  • Learn soft skills – Flawless communication, accountability, and empathy are among the common soft skills employers require. Some employers even put a heavy emphasis on these skills more than hard skills because they acknowledge the vitality of an employee’s good attitude. These employers believe that hard skills are easily teachable, but soft skills aren’t.

Where to Find PHP Developer Jobs

It’s time to get out there.

PHP developers are hired by everyone, from the business next door to big tech giants like Google and Microsoft.

1. Check Job Boards

The coding economy has skyrocketed in the last few years, pushed further along by the impact of COVID-19 pandemic. Companies are hiring developers at staggering rates trying to keep up with the fast paced tech industry and businesses moving online.

The icing on the cake is being a freelancer is a lot easier than a decade ago. As demand has increased so has the dedicated freelance coding job sites.

A brilliant technique of approaching this is to prioritize job boards that offer exclusive and high-end jobs for freelance PHP developers. Learn about the specific job boards you’re looking at and research the type of jobs.

Here’s a list of job boards and sites where you can find PHP developer jobs:

2. Set Up a Professional Website

The most important thing to do, especially if you’re planning to become a freelance php developer, is to have an outstanding portfolio. Without proof of experience, it becomes an uphill battle to land a job. Work for free if you have too.

One way is to set up your own website and promote yourself. Share your educational background and relevant degrees and share your certifications.

But most importantly, impress clients with your developer skills, your experience and your creativity.

While this approach takes time, it’s going to be more rewarding. It gives you a direct line to clients and erases platform fees from the picture.

Tip: Go a step further, build a wider digital presence by writing articles or creating your own online course on your website and for developer communities to make yourself more known in the industry.

Carving Out As A Freelance PHP Developer

It’s pretty evident from this article that the role of a php developer in today’s times is rewarding, monetarily and in terms of learning. In an era of digital transformation, the world today moves us towards modernization and a stronger focus on technological growth. Hitching yourself to this bandwagon offers an opportunity to succeed in the long term.

But, the road to becoming a successful PHP developer isn’t easy, especially if you’re planning to freelance.

But it’s worth pursuing.

Not just because it’s lucrative, especially if you pick a profitable niche, but you’re looking at one of the best work-life balance jobs.

Get paid for doing what you love from anywhere in the world.

If that sounds good to you, strive to become a freelance PHP developer.

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Written by Kayleigh Berry

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Kayleigh Berry is an SEO marketer at Paperform. Her strong history in psychology, marketing, and creativity, combined with her 100 miles per hour personality, keeps her up to date with all the latest trends in the new and changing digital marketing industry. Outside of work, you’ll find Kayleigh surfing or training her Australian Shepherd puppy.

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